A Problem Posing Approach

A Problem-Posing Approach
An excerpt from "Teaching Critically as an Act of Praxis and Resistance"
by: Mary E. Boyce

Freire's (1970) metaphor for traditional education is banking education, in which teachers make deposits of information and knowledge into the empty accounts of students. The central bank of knowledge from which instructors draw deposits is a metaphor for official knowledge: standard syllabi, accepted textbooks, canonical knowledge in a discipline, scientific truths, etc. . . It is material selected by those with the power to set standards (Shor, 1992: 32). Faculty deposit (cover) as much as they can during a course, and learners demonstrate how much they have gained by achieving high scores on objective tests.

In banking education, central bank knowledge is presented as neutral and universal rather than as historical choices of some groups whose usage and culture are privileged in society (p. 32). With a banking approach, knowledge is not usually critiqued or presented as historically embedded in a particular social, political, or economic context. Rather than dispensing society's essential facts and knowledge, deposits from the central bank celebrate the status quo, ignore problems of social inequality, and prepare students to accept external authority.

In contrast with a banking education, Freire proposed a problem-posing education. Problem-posing offers all subject matter as historical products to be questioned rather than as central bank wisdom to be accepted. . . . The responsibility of the problem-posing teacher is to diversify subject matter and to use students's thought and speech as the base for developing critical understanding of personal experience, unequal conditions in society, and existing know ledge. In this democratic pedagogy, the teacher is not filling empty minds with official or unofficial knowledge but is posing knowledge in any form as a problem for mutual inquiry (Shor, 1992: 32-33).

Problem-posing does not suggest that students have nothing to learn from established knowledge or that fundamental knowledge must be reconstructed by each group of learners. Rather that instructors and students concern themselves with how texts and syllabi are organized, with the underlying assumptions of a course or discipline, and questioning the sources and perspectives included and/or excluded from the domain of the course. Problem-posing contextualizes knowledge and is based on instructor and learner posed questions as catalysts for learning.

A problem-posing faculty in management and organization studies can ask a series of related questions: Why don'st long-time employees have the work skills that companies say they need? What makes employees expendable resources and/or a vital aspect of the work enterprise? How are employees's knowledge and skill levels social problems? These questions draw immediately from learners's awareness and experiences of skill obsolescence, downsizing, and restructuring as well as training and development. The problem opens up an examination of the centrality or peripherality of workers to accomplishing organizational goals and the problem of remaining skilled in a quickly changing society. It suggests that the issue is larger than the sustained employability of one worker or a group of workers. The instructor can facilitate exploration at several different levels of analysis: employee (individual), department (group), organization, industry, national economy, etc. . . Learners can consider the similarity and difference of the issues depending on the level of analysis. The problem identified above can carry learners into an examination and critique of knowledge related to organizational purpose and goals, organizational change, structure and design, globalization of business, labor relations, organization dynamics, human motivation, the future of work, and training and career-pathing as aspects of human resources management.

Problem-posing begins with learners experiencing themselves as knowledgeable persons by (a) writing, (b) critically examining the knowledge in a field, (c) identifying the individual aspects and social context of a problem, and (d) identifying possible collective actions. Problem-posing is a related and similar practice to the one presented above, utilizing a topical theme with dialogue. It is also similar to the use of cases with which faculty in management and organization studies are familiar. A problem frames an entry into a complex situation without an apparent solution. The objective is not to generate a solution but to explore the complexity and inter-relatedness of individual, organizational, and social issues, to learn about a problem and its context, and to identify ways in which learners can take collective action that constructively responds to the problem with which they have been engaged.